Hyattsville Police Sgt. Suzie Johnson does not exactly keep a low profile in the town where she has worked for the last 18 years. By her account, her notoriety has — on more than one occasion — brought suspected criminals to her doorstep wanting to plead their cases to her personally.
“They’re all true stories,” Johnson said with a laugh. “Swear to God.”
Now, it seems, Johnson’s celebrity is spreading nationwide. From a pool of nearly 200 people who were official nominees, she was selected as one of eight finalists in the America’s Most Wanted 7th annual All-Star Contest — which honors police, firefighters and other emergency responders across the country. Online voters put her in the top eight, and she is hoping those same voters pick her as the winner.
“I would be very excited,” she said. “I never thought I’d make it to the finals...I was pumped just to be nominated.”
Johnson grew up in Hyattsville but has moved to the College Park-Berwyn Heights area — in part, she said, because suspects began treating her home like a police station. She started her career in law enforcement in 1990 as a D.C. police officer and came to the Hyattsville police department three years later. She now heads the criminal investigations division.
Johnson said she was inspired to be an officer after her home was broken into when she was a child. She said she does not remember much, except that the police eventually caught the suspects, and she was impressed by the officers. Then, in sixth grade, a career placement test gave her two options: cop or gym teacher. She knew what she was meant to do.
“I just like working with people, being outside, you know, it’s fun,” Johnson said.
Johnson said contest officials told her she was nominated for the America’s Most Wanted award by a Hyattsville resident who she caught skipping school. Johnson said she drove the student to school and gave her a “nice stay in school lecture.” It apparently left an impression.
“I was touched, I guess you could say,” Johnson said of the nomination. “People always complain about the police. You don’t usually hear about the good stuff.”
Hyattsville Police Chief Douglas Holland said Johnson distinguishes herself through her work ethic and her ability to build relationships with residents of Hyattsville. Her profile on the America’s Most Wanted Web site touts her off-duty work in the community, noting that she helped raise several thousand dollars for the family of two Hyattsville children who were killed in a house fire in January.
“Sgt. Johnson was nominated for something she does basically on a daily basis, and it’s not something she has to do, it’s something she has a knack for,” Holland said.
Steve Katz, a co-executive producer for America’s Most Wanted, said voting will be open until May 8, and the winners will be announced shortly after that. The winner, Katz said, will be presented an award in front of an audience full of first responders, and Sprint will pay to send that person to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.